Men's Basketball Edges York to Reach Sweet 16
Issue   |   Tue, 03/11/2014 - 20:50
Photo Courtesy of the Office of Public Affairs
Connor Green '16 is averaging 18.2 points per game in 32.4 minutes.

On Saturday, March 8, Amherst men’s basketball turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 63-51 win over the York College to advance to the NCAA Third Round for the fourth consecutive season. Now, the Jeffs, who sport a 25-3 overall record, stand just four victories away from repeating as National Champions.

Without the presence of both sophomore guard/forward Connor Green and sophomore forward Ben Pollack, Amherst’s depth was tested by a talented and athletic York squad.

The first half between Amherst and York was a staunch defensive battle with the two teams combining for only 45 points. The Jeffs struggled shooting the ball against a lengthy York defense, as they went 7-29 (24.1%) and 3-14 (21.4%) from behind the arc. Amherst’s offense was kept afloat in the first half as a result of the contributions of a pair of seniors. Guards David Kalema ’14 and Connor Gach ’14 accounted for two-thirds of the Jeff’s first half points. Kalema found a way to score from the field and the free throw line, while Gach hit two clutch threes to keep the Jeffs from falling too far behind despite their shooting woes.

As much as the Amherst offense struggled in the first half, the defense kept the Jeffs in the game by limiting the Cardinals offense to just 23 points.

“In the first half, we really hung in there,” said Coach David Hixon ’75, who was recently recognized as the NESCAC Coach of the Year for the second time in as many seasons and for the fourth time during his career.

Heading into the second half of play, the Jeffs offense began to find its rhythm. In the second period, Amherst improved their field goal percentage considerably to 13-27 (48.1%). The Jeffs also doubled scoring their output in the second half by tallying 42 points.

Although the Jeffs pulled ahead early in the second half, building a 35-28 lead less than five minutes in, the Cardinals would storm back and close the gap to 50-47 with 5:30 remaining. With 3:30 remaining, Amherst still only held a three-point edge over York at 52-49, but the Jeffs would close the door on an 11-2 run over the final 2:32 to advance to the NCAA Third Round.

By the game’s end, Kalema finished with a game-high 21 points. Senior guard Aaron Toomey, who was recently recognized as the NESCAC Player of the Year for the second-straight season, had a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards, while senior guard/forward Tom Killian, a Second Team All-NESCAC selection, posted 10 points.

Ultimately, the Amherst defense stifled the York offensive unit, especially their top two scoring options. While St. John posted 31 in his NCAA First Round performance against Rhode Island College, the Jeffs limited him to 11 points on Saturday. Woods, who entered play as the second-leading scorer in the nation, was held to 19 points, well short of his season average of 28.4 points per game. Defensive highlights included a 51-34 team rebounding edge over the Cardinals and five key blocks from David George ’17.

With regard to George, Hixon noted that the first-year “is an amazing kid. He had five blocks, and a couple of them were spectacular. He is a real game-changer.”

Of Killian, Hixon said that “he is long, he bothers people, he tipped a couple of three-point shots and he has quickness. Quickness and length is a great thing on defense.”

The road to a repeat title will not come easily, as Amherst awaits Plattsburgh State (24-5) in the NCAA Third Round on Friday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. in LeFrak Gymnasium. Last season, the Jeffs played against Plattsburgh State in the NCAA Second Round and advanced with an 89-72 win.

“They have some of the kids from last year, but the kids that they lost were their bigger players,” said Hixon. “Right now, they start four guards and a 6’6” kid who is a perimeter player, so they basically start five outside players. Last year, they were a bit more traditional. In the next few days, we’ll try figure out how we can play that.”

If the Jeffs were to advance past Plattsburgh, the Jeffs would face the winner of Richard Stockton (25-4) and Morrisville State (21-8) in the National Quarterfinals the following evening at 7 p.m. in LeFrak.

Notably in other tournament play, while many predicted that Cabrini would be playing in the National Quarterfinals, Richard Stockton knocked off Cabrini, 85-76, in the NCAA Second Round. Two wins for Amherst this upcoming weekend would propel the Jeffs into the Final Four to be held on Friday, March 21, with the National Championship scheduled for Saturday, March 22 in Salem, VA.